“I’m still going through withdrawal from football. The transition was life changing. I wasn’t expecting to do what I ended up doing,” remarks former professional arena football player Amir Madison.
Amir was a defensive back with the Bloomington Edge, in the Northeast Division of Champions Indoor Football.
At the age of 24, while training intensely for a spot with the Chicago Bears, he recognized that the cap on his athletic career was nearing. Amir’s professional course entered the beginnings of a shift when a close friend suggested that he try Bikram yoga.
“I hated it the first time. It was difficult. I was looking around the class, and people seemed not bothered like I was. It really challenged my focus and strength,” Amir said. Hooked by the performance challenge, he kept going back. At 26, he took his first “time out” from football due to an ankle injury, amazed that the torn ligaments in his ankle were healing much more rapidly through yoga. He identified other gaps in elite athletic training that yoga filled, like greater mind-body awareness.
Both intrigued and unsettled by the changes in his physique, Amir became leaner, dropping from 210 to 185 pounds. Still undecided about whether or not he would return to professional play, he was concerned about losing strength. Relieved to discover that he was bench-pressing the same weight as he had at 210, while his performance skills improved and he temporarily went back to football, a different career identity began to take shape.
Amir’s growth as a yogi attracted the attention of his local community and teacher, who encouraged him to see yoga as a professional path. Becoming certified in both RYT200 Hot and Yin yoga, and as a personal trainer during the past two years, now 29, Amir teaches yoga to youth diagnosed with Autism, and in a variety of business and educational settings in his hometown of Los Angeles. He founded YogiAthlete with the mission of pioneering the integration of yoga into athletic training programs, and coaching players early on in their careers, when this practice can enhance performance, prevent and accelerate healing from injuries, and lengthen their staying power in sports. It can also help retired pros to maintain their fitness after they’ve lost the routine of training with their team.
His vision is to give back to the community that enabled him to develop a sense of purpose, and through which he honed traits that he has transferred to YogiAthlete, like discipline and drive.
Amir shares, “Football is all about family. You remember the time you spent with your teammates more than the game. Coaches are mentors. They are the ones who teach you discipline, the will to get going, and advice to stay out of trouble and keep your grades up. For some people, coaches become father figures, someone to look up to…”
He adds, “When I was younger I had anger management issues. Football helped me to channel this anger into something else, into goals, and transformed my thought process into wanting to be something better. It was never just about me. It was a tool I could use, something I was good at through which I could help others. Yoga and athletics have a lot in common, like discipline with your mind and body. You can switch your willpower into mind-body alignment.”
Reflecting on his pass from football to yoga, Amir acknowledges, “The transition had its ups and down. [Although] I was afraid to do a 9 to 5 job I didn’t like, I was learning more about myself and that life wasn’t all about football. I knew that one day it would come to an end. As you get older, your value decreases. I could see a future outside of football. I had given it all I had and [was left with] no ‘what ifs.’”
Amir’s support system emerged through his parents and the yoga community: “My teacher saw the potential in me and became my mentor, putting me through teacher training. The yoga community thought it was cool to have a football player doing yoga.”
His advice to other professional football players? “Stay in your lane and stand clear of bad influences and the noise around you. Stay focused on knowing what you want. Stay true to yourself. Life after football is really hard [but] know that there is life after football. Write your goals down, even if they seem far-fetched. Keep going; if you make those right decisions as you go forth, you’ll get there.”
He’s partial to the benefits of combining academics and sports: “Being a student athlete gives you the best of both worlds. It’s a gift because you are taking courses and setting yourself up for something else after football. [When you’re thinking through what you want to do after sports] start with what you studied [whether it’s communications, social work, kinesiology, or another major]. I got a B.A. in social work [before I became a professional athlete] because I knew I wanted to help people in need.”
Amir offers the example of his cousin, who played for the Buffalo Bills: “He became a financial health advisor after he retired [presenting lectures about wealth management],” suggesting: “Save your money and invest in something that you believe in; then you can use your own financial tools to start a career.”
Having tackled “a constant battle of getting to the next level,” as a pro, and the adjustment pains of his departure, Amir is in his zone. He sums it up: “I feel like everything I went through was for a purpose. A friend said, “You’re living your dream.” I told her my dream was to play football. I’m living my purpose.”
Regardless of the stage you’re in, retired, at your peak, or in training for a career as a professional athlete, Amir suggests that yoga can play an important role in your performance and wellbeing. These pro athletes and teams agree.
YogiAthlete is a partner of the esteemed Coach Mitchell’s high performance training facility, “We Build Champions” in Redondo Beach, where Amir provides personalized yoga instruction.